Marketplace for Maryland retail alcohol sales could be shifting

Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — Under Maryland law, the retail sale of “package” liquor is pretty much limited to stores selling it exclusively. Some in the General Assembly are giving thought to change that.

Those mom and pop liquor stores are popular destinations across the state. During the pandemic, consumers have been able to get take-out beverages from restaurants. Alcoholic beverages can even be delivered. So, some ask in the legislature, why not make at least beer and wine available in retail stores like grocers and supermarkets?

That’s not good for small business, says Delegate Mike McKay (R – Washington & Allegany Counties), himself a small businessman in Cumberland where he owns a dry cleaners.

“Already these small businesses are struggling,” said McKay. “To allow big-box corporations to be selling is just another nail in their coffin for small business.”

It’s a view shared by fellow Republican Delegate Steven Arentz who represents four rural counties on the eastern shore where the main street shops are struggling to survive.

“If I take these alcohol beverages and put them in grocery stores,” said Arentz, “I now lose three family-owned businesses in my district.”

Some in the General Assembly see expanding liquor sales as a way to help meet other community needs. Baltimore City Senator Cory McCray would incentivize grocers in underserved neighborhoods – so-called “food deserts” – to carry alcohol for sale on the condition that they also carry fresh fruits and vegetables, for example; products he says are not so readily available right now.

“This is specifically about an opportunity to be creative,” McCray said. “It’s about healthy food options in neighborhoods that deserve it the most.”

Even supporters of the bill say it may not make it to the governor’s desk this session, but they will try again next year.

The bill to expand liquor sales is collecting amendments, such as requiring those who deliver alcohol to be at least 21 years old and take alcohol awareness training. That’s a change from current language that sets the delivery age at 18 and requires they also be an employee of the establishment.

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